Jeep’s redesigned 2017 Compass lineup competes with the best-selling lineup of crossovers from Honda, Toyota, and Nissan. But being a Jeep, it seeks to be the off-road alternative to the more suburban competitors. And unlike its upstart, boxy, personality-infused, little brother, the Jeep Renegade, the Compass looks more like Jeep took the Grand Cherokee and shrunk it down into a compact SUV.
The dated Compass (and Patriot) vehicles are gone, with both replaced by the new Compass. Jeep is making the vehicle in four plants around the globe and selling it with 17 different engine variations. But here in the U.S., we only get one, the 2.4-liter, four-cylinder Tigershark engine that pumps out 180-hp and 175 lb-ft. of torque.
The Compass Trailhawk, Jeep’s off-road model, comes with a 9-speed automatic transmission. That works with the vehicle’s Active Drive Low 4×4 mode with a 20:1 crawl ratio and Jeep’s Selec-Terrain system, which optimizes the 4×4 for Snow, Sand, Mud, and, exclusive to the Trailhawk, Rock mode. The version also comes with Hill-Descent Control and 17-inch Falken all-terrain tires.
The Trailhawk version jacks the ground clearance to 8.7 inches, and spec’s front and rear fascias with a 30-degree approach angle and 34-degree departure angle and skid plates underneath. There’s even a full-size spare tire. You can check out TFL’s Nathan Adlen’s thorough off-road review of the Compass Trailhawk conducted in Moab, here.
Sticker price for the Compass Trailhawk starts at $29,690, destination charge included. That’s $1,700 more than the Jeep Renegade Trailhawk, which uses the same engine, transmission, platform, and roughly the same off-roading spec’s as the Compass. Which begs the question: Why would someone buy the Compass Trailhawk over the Renegade Trailhawk? We would assume that a Trailhawk buyer is interested in a more capable off-roader than road-tripper, and if there’s money to be saved, why spend it?
I put that question to Scott Tallon, Director of the Jeep Brand, who explained that they’ve found that there are two Jeep buyers out there: the traditionalists who gravitate to the Wrangler/Renegade and their boxy shapes, and those who equate Jeep with the more sophisticated and premium (and pricier) experience of the Grand Cherokee. “They are totally different customers,” he said. “And even geographically, we know that some parts of the country are going to be Renegade country and the rest is Compass country. With the new Compass, we feel that we have everyone covered.”
Over the course of 253-miles of highway and city driving across the Denver metro area, including some time in a freak snowstorm, the Compass was fine as a daily driver. The relatively short wheelbase made it easy to maneuver in traffic and parking lots. Compared to the Renegade, the Compass is a smoother ride on the freeway thanks to the more aerodynamic shape. In a narrow, twisting canyon road, we felt most comfortable driving at the posted speed limit, which is okay considering we’re in an off-roader, not a sports car. And we’ll leave it at that.
The Compass Trailhawk has an EPA rating of 22 mpg city, 30 mpg hwy, and 25 mpg combined. We averaged 22.8 mpg according to the vehicles trip computer, which we found surprising, since the majority of our miles were on freeways and highways, not city streets or stuck in traffic.
On the freeway and two-lane highways, we found the 2.4-liter engine lacking during passing maneuvers. Mash the accelerator, and the Compass slowly turns on the power. Part of this limpness can be attributed to the thinner air at elevation. But on a steep hill-climb that started from a stop at an elevation of more than 6,500 feet, we found a surprising amount of torque propelling the Compass upwards to about 40 mph. That leads us to believe that the true gremlin in this Jeep’s use of power lies with the math responsible for managing the automatic transmission.
COMFORT AND CONVENIENCE
The interior of the Compass is well designed. Controls are intuitive and FCA’s updated Uconnect infotainment touchscreen is still one of the best in the business for its simplicity and ease-of-use. Our test vehicle’s massive glass sunroof (a $1,295 option) does what Jeep does best; bring the outside in. Without it, we think we may have felt a bit more cramped inside.
Small front seats exacerbated that feeling of being cramped. The bottom of the headrest hit any drivers over six feet tall square in the back of their shoulders blades. Around town on our various drives the ill-fitting seat was merely annoying. On a cross-country road trip, we imagine that issue could drive us insane.
With the front seats set to accommodate six footers, legroom in the rear seats was very tight. But headroom was the real issue: Anyone over six feet tall had to slouch their heads to fit. Granted, without the panoramic sunroof eating into the cabin’s headroom, this likely wouldn’t have been a problem.
Cargo space is one place where the Compass kicks the Renegade’s butt. The Renegade’s 18.5 cu ft. of space behind the rear seats is mostly vertical. The Compass’s 27.2 cu. ft. of room is more than 30 percent bigger and more horizontal, a.k.a more user- and dog-friendly. It’s here that the Compass proves its can be worth more than the Renegade. Over the course of several years of ownership, this extra real-world utility is worth the higher price.
TEST VEHICLE MSRP: Our Jeep Compass Trailhawk 4×4 started with a base price of $28,595. Optional equipment included Navigation, power driver’s seat, remote starter and power liftgate, panoramic sunroof, safety tech. Total price including destination charge: $33,815.
Check out TFL’s Roman Mica driving impressions of the new Compass at Jeep’s press introduction held earlier this year in Texas Hill Country: